Turkish banker gets 32 months prison in US case over Iran sanctions

Clay Curtis
May 17, 2018

Judge Richard Berman said on Wednesday that he plans to sentence Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who is charged with helping Iran evade USA sanctions, to 32 months in prison.

In January, a federal jury found Mehmet Hakan Atilla guilty of bank fraud, sanctions evasion and other crimes.

Prosecutors had sought a sentence of about 20 years for Atilla, who worked as a deputy general manager at Halkbank.

The case has strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Monday blasted the USA government for prosecuting Atilla, calling the case "a great injustice" and claiming the US case was based on evidence fabricated by followers Fetullah Gulen, a US -based Muslin cleric who has also been blamed for the failed 2016 Turkish coup attempt.

With ties between the U.S. and Turkey strained, and today's sentencing likely to compound this, expect Moscow to deepen the rift by seeking closer engagement with Ankara.

Lockard said the sanctions-busting scheme was "monumental in scope and momentous in timing" given the negotiations aimed at curtailing the nuclear aims of a state sponsor of terrorism and preventing a Middle East nuclear arms race.

Mehmet Atilla, right, testifies on December 15, 2017, during his trial on corruption charges in NY.

But the prosecutor's strong words did not match a voice and demeanor that were otherwise listless, and with good reason.

"If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal", Erdogan said.

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Victor Rocco, one of Atilla's lawyers, said his client would appeal his conviction, but called the sentence "fair".

Judge Berman rejected the prosecution's portrayal of Atilla as the "architect of the scheme".

Alsan, who has been indicted for more than a year, remains at large.

"You stole my thunder, judge", Rocco said today.

Berman went to great lengths to ensure that today's proceedings would be widely viewed in Turkey, ordering that English and Turkish transcripts be made available to the public. He demanded Atilla be sent to his family and his country.

Far away from his wife, son and aging parents, Atilla pleaded for a quick return to his family.

"Apart from my family, I have no other priorities", the statement said.

A former Erdogan ally turned state enemy, Zarrab tendered an eleventh-hour guilty plea before trial that led to his dramatic testimony in NY.

Zarrab, who has yet to be sentenced, testified during Atilla's trial that he bribed Turkish officials, and that Erdogan personally signed off on parts of the scheme while serving as Turkey's prime minister.

Berman has ridiculed those theories in the past, and he said that letters that he received from regular Turkish people expressed confidence in USA justice.

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